ANTHONY McGrath believes the Ashes series between England and Australia is too close to call.

The first Test, at The Gabba in Brisbane, got underway last night, with England looking to retain the urn following their success in 2015.

Australia are favourites to take back the trophy this winter, having won six of the last seven series Down Under.

But Essex head coach McGrath believes there is little between the two teams, and that the first Test will be crucial to the outcome.

“I think the first Test is pivotal,” said the Yorkshireman. “It will be very tough to win if we lose in Brisbane but we have guys that have been there before.

“An Ashes tour is tough and history tells you that it is tough to go to Australia and win but I don’t think Australia have a settled side either. They have selection problems and they are certainly not a team to be scared of.

“Both teams are missing certain ingredients and I think both have a good chance of winning.”

Essex batsman Alastair Cook will be a vital player for England if they are to retain the Ashes.

The often immovable opening batsman will look to replicate the form he showed in 2010/11 - when England last won in Australia - scoring 766 runs across the five Test matches as he was named Player of the Series.

And, almost seven years to the day since Cook scored 235 not out at The Gabba, McGrath says he will be important to the tourists’ chances.

“Last time England won the Ashes in Australia Alastair had a superb tour following a great season with Essex,” he said. “I know the Aussies will be targeting him and (captain) Joe Root.

“I believe it will be a series where both teams win games and it will be nip and tuck. It is difficult to predict but I really think it is 50/50 and don’t place Australia as favourites at all.”